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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Porters Neck family lives right next door to school their daughter can’t go to

PORTERS NECK — When the foliage thins out in winter, the Petty family can see the new John J. Blair Elementary School from their front porch. Their house is about one tenth of a mile from the school’s front doors – about 500 steps for the Pettys’ young daughter, who is entering kindergarten this month.

The only problem for the family is, their daughter won’t be going to Blair. Instead, she’ll be bused to Castle Hayne Elementary School; it’s a 10-mile trip that takes over an hour by bus.

“It’s crazy to me that she’s gonna have to get on a bus at 6:15 in the morning to start at school at 8, and she’d be the last stop coming come, between 4:30 and 5,” Josh Petty said. “I know any father would say this, but I’m not going to put my daughter on a bus for two hours when the school is right there. My daughter has literally grown up watching the school be built from the window.”

Small portions of the yellow Porters Neck area, originally zoned for the Blair school, were re-zoned for Castle Hayne. Those area, in grey, include the Petty family residence. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NHC Board of Education)
Small portions of the yellow Porters Neck area, originally zoned for the Blair school, were re-zoned for Castle Hayne. Those areas, in grey, include the Petty family residence. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NHC Board of Education)

The reason stems back to overcrowding in the 2000s at the old Blair school off Market Street. To help readjust students loads, the county Board of Education rezoned parts of Ogden and Porters Neck for Castle Hayne Elementary School in 2008. According to Valita Quattlebaum, spokeswoman for New Hanover County schools, the board decided that any development not already under construction before November 2008 would be zoned for the new Castle Hayne school on Holly Shelter Road.

Three years later, in 2011, the Petty family were looking for a new home. Josh Petty was in the early stages of thinking about opening a new restaurant and thought the Ogden area of Market Street offered good opportunities. In December 2011, Petty and his wife Andrea purchased a house.

In 2014, two years later, a school bond came up for a vote that would build a new school – literally in their front yard. The Petty family were enthusiastically in favor and, when the bond passed and the county broke ground, the Pettys were excited. Josh was laying the groundwork for what would become Cast Iron Kitchen and Andrea was planning on moving her hair salon to the same complex.

“We realized that if Josh opened a restaurant here, we could have our own little neighborhood,” Andrea Petty said.

The new Blair Elementary School directly borders the Petty's residential street. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NHC BOARD OF EDUCATION)
The new Blair Elementary School directly borders the Petty’s residential street. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY NHC BOARD OF EDUCATION)

It was more than just a convenience; running a literal mom-and-pop restaurant with a young daughter, Josh and Andrea hoped to be able to build a restaurant schedule around the nearby school’s timetable.

“It’s hands on, full time, for both of us here,” Josh said. “We can run home and grab (our daughter) and, the hope was, eventually she could walk. But waiting in line at the bus stops was going to be tricky to swing. Getting her on the bus at 6 was going to be tricky.”

But the Pettys had hope.

The appeal was heard by Board of Education members Edward B. Higgins, Jr and Janice A. Cavenaugh

They’d heard about families in a nearby neighborhood that protested the 2008 zoning change. Under the new districts, mothers and fathers from the Anchors Bend neighborhood would see their children bussed directly past nearby Ogden Elementary on the way to Castle Hayne.

Despite public outcry, in July of 2013 the Board of Education upheld its decision.

But in the years since the board’s 2013 ruling, Andrea Petty had seen several parents from the Anchors Bend neighborhood taking their children to the Ogden School. Had they been granted exemptions? Quattlebaum gave a one-word answer: “Yes.”

So, earlier this summer, Andrea and Josh Petty filed an appeal. On June 20, Andrea had a hearing in front of Board of Education members Edward B. Higgins, Jr. and Janice A. Cavenaugh.

“I had to swear on a bible, there was someone there typing up everything that was said, taking down my testimony. The whole thing was surreal, but I just didn’t feel like they were listening to me. Honestly, the only question I remember was being asked what year we bought the house,” Andrea said.

A little over a week after the hearing, the Pettys received a letter telling them their appeal had been denied. Andrea wrote a letter Dr. Rick Holliday, assistant superintendent of New Hanover County schools.

“I wrote him, just hoping I could explain myself. Holliday wrote me back. He just cited the official code or statute. I didn’t really understand it – it was like he didn’t read what I’d written. I feel like he wasn’t really talking to me,” Andrea said.

Quattlebaum said the appeals were granted on a case-by-case basis, but declined to give any more information, saying children were involved.

According to Quattlebaum, parents only get one appeal for school zoning issues.

“When parents appeal to the New Hanover County Board of Education and the Board hears their appeal and then denies such an appeal, that case cannot come before the Board again. Their next level of appeal would have to be to take the case to Superior Court within 30 days of receiving the Board’s decision,” Quattlebaum wrote in an email.

The Petty family has spoken with lawyers but have not decided whether to pursue legal action.

“Honestly, it’s insane. All this trouble just so we can send our daughter across the street to school,” Andrea said.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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